Featured alum: Ben Martin '08
Ben Martin’s summer was hot, literally. While many tried to beat the heat and drought of this past summer, Martin fanned the flames of wildfires across the West. As a forestry technician on a Type II crew for the U.S. Forest Service, Martin, in his second year, was a member of an initial attack crew – first on the scene of some of the summer’s most dangerous wildfires. (That's Ben on the far left, above.)
When a lighting strike ignited the forest surrounding Eagle Creek retreat camps north of Colorado Springs, Colo., Martin’s team flew to the area, where they ran 3 miles of hose and set up more than 100 sprinklers to saturate and attempt to protect the area from the looming burn. A day later, after fire swept through, the Eagle Creek camp area remained green amidst a charred and smoky forest. Then the wind shifted, fanning fires back toward the camp. Yet Eagle Creek remained green. The crew had done its job well.
As the fires raged on toward residential areas of Colorado Springs, Martin’s crew turned to a new task: spreading a mixture of diesel and gasoline to create a burn line to devour the flames before they devoured the evacuated homes in their path. Success again. Not a single home in their area was lost. Many other areas of Colorado Springs weren’t as lucky. Thousands lost their homes before monsoon rains helped squelch the flames.
Next, Martin shipped north to Laramie, Wyo., where what seemed like a brush fire in pine needles and leaves had turned abruptly into a full blaze, destroying tall evergreens in its path as it traveled hundreds of feet in minutes. With the fire less than a mile away, the newly arrived team acted quickly. They used the morning and bulldozers to rout out ground and brush to discourage the fire once it would reach the area. By noon, Martin’s exhausted team was forced to evacuate. Soon after, those same monsoon rains that swept across Colorado cooled the flames of Wyoming and Martin was able to return home.
Martin’s Manchester and service background drew him to forest firefighting. “If you go to Manchester and pay attention, you must find work that matters,” says Martin. “You will want to put your head on the pillow at night and say, ‘What I do matters.’”
Martin, a cum laude environmental studies and political science graduate, is becoming an old hat at firefighting. He’s also worked with AmeriCorps as a member of the Washington Conservation Corps.
The winter months bring him a bit of a breather, and time to consider his next challenge. Martin is applying for the next level of forest firefighting, the “Hotshots” of the U.S. Forest Service. He is looking forward to becoming part of this highly regarded, multi-skilled squad of professional wildland firefighters and the challenge of handling Mother Nature’s most rugged fires.
By Chaz Bellman ’13